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Vanuatu National Archives, August 13-17, 2012

Island Culture Archival Support

Island Culture Archival Support continued its support of the creation of the National Archives of Vanuatu as it prepares itself for a new building in 2013. For this project volunteer, Brandon Oswald, concentrated on helping sort and appraise records of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Anticipation and excitement was in the air as the construction of the new National Archives and the National Library building on the grounds of the Cultural Center began with the moving of dirt and preparation of laying the foundation. In fact, a week before my arrival there was an official Ground Breaking Ceremony between the Government of Australia (represented by the Acting Australian High Commissioner), the Government of Vanuatu (represented by the Director-General, Ministry of Internal Affairs), and the Vanuatu National Cultural Council (represented by the Chairman and Director of the Council).

Brandon Oswald at work.
Brandon Oswald at work.

Several months ago, over a hundred boxes were delivered from the PMO to the Archives in the Cultural Center. Unfortunately, like the records that were salvaged from the old, dilapidated archives building, the boxes came without any kind of list or guide. Because of this, staff painstakingly inspects each item to see what they own. Any document dated prior to Vanuatu's independence on July 30, 1980 (at noon) was considered "historic," pulled, and placed with other historic records. No original order was disrupted because these records were simply sent to the archives loose and placed in a box without any order. After all historic records were identified and removed, the next step was to write down the contents of the items in the box and form a list. Eventually, like records will be matched together. More importantly, this temporary list will be used to create a box list, and help describe the collection at a later date. Additionally, documents were unfolded and cleaned before being returned to the box.

Construction of the National Archives and the National Library Building.
Construction of the National Archives and the National Library Building.

Accessioning the records of the PMO became priority, as the archive's staff felt that there will be a need to use the records in the near future. Their instincts were right. By the end of the week employees of the PMO called the archives stating that they are in need of records pertaining to the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF). During the week the VNPF became a contentious topic among the working citizens of Port Vila. Naturally, this event provided proof to the staff's decision to rush the processing of the PMO collection.

Construction of the PMO records waiting to be sorted and accessioned.
PMO records waiting to be sorted and accessioned.

All in all, it was a full, productive week at the National Archives of Vanuatu. There is still much to be done and, at times, the work ahead can seem quite overwhelming. Things are moving slowly but in the right direction, and ICAS plans to help them along each small step. Although the archives currently consists of a very small room and boxes strewn throughout the entire Cultural Center, the sounds of the construction of the new archives/library building keeps the spirit and attitude of the staff extremely high.

Looking forward to 2013!